Chthonic - Takasago Army (2011)



It is no surprise that metal and political activism have become intertwined through the years. But the powerful message delivered by Taiwanese symphonic black metal band Chthonic, one of independence for Taiwan, has taken the entire world by storm. So much, in fact, that they have been banned from playing certain areas of China. But taking their rich, Asian heritage and combining it with the fury of metal, the band are sure to be heard the world over. On their latest album, "Takasago Army," they continue the quest for Unlimited Taiwan.

That light, beautiful Asian sound opens "The Island," in true symphonic style. The rattle of cymbals combines with immense strings, as if this is the opening to a Hollywood blockbuster. But from the airy to the intense, "Legacy Of The Seediq" roars into action. The drumming stands out from the pack, with a flurry of kicks and snares that may leave you dizzy. From the deathly growls to the screeching screams, the vocals are a kick in the face. But amidst the thrashing and whining of guitars and drums, the classical Taiwanese instrumentation, in the form of the erhu, puts a little silver lining on the dark musical cloud. The heavy handed chugging at the song's end is complimented so well by the use of keyboards and strings.

The first single from the album, titled "Takao," begins with low register chanting, placed on top of the rapid pounding of drums. The song tells the tale of Taiwanese soldiers leaving to join the war in the Pacific. The guitar work is delivered with the utmost precision, from the rapid picking to intense thrashing. Additional vocals, provided by members of Ensiferum, only heighten the experience. This is traditional Taiwanese folk, dropped into the pits of fiery black metal. The growls that lead "Oceanquake" are tremendous, in both volume and weight. That eerie keyboard and erhu melody is a contrast that highlights just how deep and layered the music is, aside from the blastbeats and heavy, chugging chord work. Just imagine the sea of people jumping and bobbing to this breakdown. A wailing solo puts the exclamation point on this strong track.

Tradition collides with thunder in "Southern Cross," a track which gives you both admiration for culture and a case of whiplash in the span of fifteen glorious seconds. The soft pipes are immediately obliterated by a kick drum from hell. The rolls used in this song are fast and furious, tying together guitar excerpts and brutal, violent vocals. The conflicted vocal styles, from death to black metal, cut back and forth. The fretwork in the guitar solo is precise and pulverizing, leading this thrasher to a conclusion. With keyboards and synthesizers layered on top of deafening drums, "Kaoru" takes no prisoners. The use of lightly whispers vocals throughout the verses is haunting, sounding as if you are hearing voices from beyond the gave. The erhu and strings become the cement that ties the band together, providing light where there seems to only be darkness. But the most inspiring moments come in the bridge section, with clean vocals taking the spotlight quickly, before handing the reins back to the brutal.

"Broken Jade" emerges as the most folk oriented track on the album, but this is not to say it doesn't have its own melodic death moments. Putting deathly growls in the same sections as plucked Asian strings and the erhu is daring, to the say the least. Daring, and successful. The short interlude, aptly titled "Root Regeneration," is little more than wood flutes and spoken passages. Relaxing, breathaking, and ominous, all at once. To say that the following track, "Mahakala," is a drummers delight is an understatement. From lightning fills, to staggering rolls, to the thumping of non-stop kicks, this is a drum clinic. The screeching vocals take over the lead, in true black metal style. But behind all of the chaos and distortion  is that ever-present cultural element.

The album's finale, "Quell The Souls In Sing Ling Temple," is Chthonic in one song. Every element of their musical background, their culture and their beliefs, finds a home in a mere five minutes of devastating metal assault. There is literally something for everyone. Thrash fans will find enjoyment in the twirling, yet crushingly distorted guitars. Death fans will get their fill of the deep, harsh growls. The native instruments shine through, once again, to feed the folk fan in all of us. Even the power metal aficionado will be happy with the instrumental portion around the three minute mark. There is so much on display at one time, that it may become hard to pick it all out on the first listen.

There must always be a balance between the music and the message. If one outweighs the other, it becomes lopsided and fails to serve the ultimate purpose. Chthonic tread this line delicately on every release, walking a dangerous path. Yet, somehow, they walk the tightrope with no problem, no missteps, not a shaky stride in sight. The music is as powerful as the message it seeks to deliver. And "Takasago Army" is an album and a movement that deserves to be heard.

9/10

Official Site - http://chthonic.org/